Serena Williams has withdrawn from next week's Qatar Open with a back injury.
The top-ranked Williams hurt her back between her second- and third-round matches at the Australian Open. Coach Patrick Mouratoglou said the pain was so bad that she considered pulling out of the tournament before her third-round match against Daniela Hantuchova, which she won 6-3, 6-3. Two days later, she lost to Ana Ivanovic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
The news is a huge blow to a tournament that has already been decimated by withdrawals. No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, the defending champion, withdrew earlier this week with a foot injury. Maria Sharapova is skipping the entire Middle East swing to serve as a correspondent for NBC at the Sochi Olympics. No. 15 Sabine Lisicki is also out of the tournament with her ongoing shoulder injury.
Last year, Doha was the site of one of Williams' most emotional moments of the season, when she recaptured the No. 1 ranking after a hard-fought, three-set win over Petra Kvitova. She went on to make the final, where she lost to then-No. 1 Azarenka in three sets. Azarenka's withdrawal ensures that Australian Open champion Li Na will rise to a career high ranking of No. 2 after the tournament. Li will also be the top seed in Doha.